Friday, June 15, 2007

Opposition Mounts as University of Colorado President Calls for Ward Churchill to be Dismissed

by National Project in Defense of Dissent and Critical Thinking in Academia -- NPDDCTA; Defend Critical Thinking; June 14, 2007


Contact: Reggie Dylan: (626) 319-1730 Matthew Abraham: (773) 682-9322 Email: Website:

In a letter to the Board of Regents, University of Colorado President Hank Brown has called for the dismissal of tenured Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill. His recommendation goes beyond that of the faculty investigative committee that examined charges of research misconduct; and of the faculty Privilege and Tenure (P&T) committee that recently heard Churchill's appeal. Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado joined Brown in calling for the firing of Churchill, as his predecessor Bill Owens did two years earlier. The Board of Regents is expected to make a final decision in this case at a public hearing some time in July.

A growing number of scholars see CU's investigation of Churchill's scholarship as completely illegitimate and a dangerous precedent threatening dissent and critical thinking in the universities. The CU - Boulder chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has written that "we believe that the investigation now is widely perceived to be a pretext for firing Churchill when the real reason for dismissal is his politics." The investigation was launched in the wake of controversy provoked by an essay Churchill wrote after 9/11.

Churchill noted in response to Brown's letter that "the University had received no formal or written complaints about my scholarship when it initiated this 'investigation.' All of the allegations investigated were either solicited or brought directly by University administrators." He also noted that "The Investigative Committee charged with conducting a 'fact-finding, nonadversarial' investigation was chaired by law professor Mimi Wesson, who - in February 2005 - had compared me to 'charismatic male celebrity wrongdoers' like O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton, and had already come up with the faulty 'traffic stop' analogy the Committee used to justify its conclusions." The committee included no American Indians or experts in American Indian Studies, and scholars that had used Churchill's research in their own work were removed from the committee.

The report of the committee hearing Churchill's appeal found that Churchill proved by a "preponderance of the evidence" that "but for" his exercise of his protected first amendment rights, the subsequent investigation of his scholarship would never have been initiated.

In a recent open letter to colleagues around the country Dr. Margaret LeCompte, President of the Boulder AAUP Chapter, wrote: "What has happened at the University of Colorado makes a mockery of both due process and academic freedom protections, AND what faculty believe. It is a cruel violation of the delicate balance between faculty rights and administrative responsibilities. The entire process was a sham---imitating the form, but not the intent, of due process and fair, objective, scholarly investigation."

Two faculty groups that have examined the report of the investigative committee claim that the report is seriously flawed. In an unprecedented action, both have now filed formal charges of academic misconduct against the members of the faculty committee. The most recent group to do so, made up of principally Indigenous scholars from around the country and Canada, documented "many instances of fraud, fabrication, plagiarism and/or serious deviation from accepted scholarly practices" which "demonstrate a consistent pattern of deliberate misrepresentation intended to discredit Professor Churchill's larger body of scholarship." Eric Cheyfitz, Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University, has found "the Report turns what is a debate about controversial issues of identity and genocide in Indian studies into an indictment of one position in that debate."

The implications of this case go beyond the threat to Churchill's reputation and career, as serious as those are. The attack on Churchill is seen by many in academia as part of a much broader attack on academic freedom and critical thinking and dissent. Dr. LeCompte notes, "It is not limited to Colorado. In fact, it is a test case by the US right wing to emasculate faculty rights in US universities."

This is illustrated by the recent denial of tenure for DePaul University political scientist Norman Finkelstein. Though he was supported by his department, Finkelstein was denied tenure after an intense campaign spearheaded by Harvard Law School's Alan M. Dershowitz, who called Finkelstein "worse than Churchill." Many DePaul faculty and others were alarmed at Dershowitz's heavy-handed tactics and saw them as an attempt to punish one side of a controversial debate. Finkelstein said that DePaul's decision was based on "transparently political grounds" and was an "egregious violation" of academic freedom.

Churchill noted in his response to Brown's letter that "President Brown, his new VP Michael Poliakoff, and Regent Tom Lucero, like Bill Owens, are key players in Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). ACTA and similar neoconservative groups have received generous funding [from] Castle Rock (Coors), Scaife, Bradley and Olin foundations to eliminate Ethnic, Gender and Peace Studies Programs and to purge higher education of those who think critically, challenge historical orthodoxy, or otherwise threaten the status quo."

Opposition to this impending firing has been increasing nationally, as more and more academics recognize the stakes involved in the Churchill case. An open letter signed by numerous prominent scholars, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Derrick Bell and Immanuel Wallerstein was published in the New York Review of Books in April. Scores of others have written letters of support, and there was a recent Emergency National Forum in Boulder of academics and supporters. The Society of American Law Teachers has written a letter arguing against a firing.

Richard Falk, visiting Distinguished Professor at University of California, Santa Barbara recently wrote: "All of us who value academic freedom should now stand in full solidarity with Ward Churchill. The outcome of his case at the University of Colorado is the best litmus test we have to tell whether the right-wing's assaults on learning and liberty will stifle campus life in this country. Never in my lifetime have we in America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and creative controversy that Ward Churchill's distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose if his principled defense fails."

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Matthew Abraham - Department of English, De Paul University.

William Ayers - Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Derrick A Bell - Visiting Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University School of Law.

Timothy Brennan - Departments of English and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota.

Renate Bridenthal - Emerita Professor of History, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York.

Bob Buzzanco - Department of History, University of Houston.

Dana Cloud - Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas (Austin).

Drucilla Cornell - Professor in the Departments of Law and Political Science at Rutgers University.

Sandi E Cooper - Professor of History, College of Staten Island and the Graduate School, The City University of New York.

Richard Delgado - University Distinguished Professor of Law and Derrick Bell Fellow, University of Pittsburgh. Richard A Falk - Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice at Princeton University; Visiting Distinguished Professor (since 2002), Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Seth Kahn - Assistant Professor of English, West Chester University of PA.

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Middle East Institute, Columbia University.

Vinay Lal - Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles.

Gary Leupp - Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.

Henry Silverman - Professor and Chairperson Emeritus, Department of History, Michigan State University.

Immanuel Wallerstein - Senior Research Scholar, Yale University.

Tim Wise - Author of "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son," and "Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White."

For more information, contact us at (626) 319-1730

Or contact any of the faculty listed below to arrange an interview:

Matthew Abraham:; (773) 682-9322.

Timothy Brennan -; (651) 228-0965.

Dana Cloud -; (512) 471-1947.

Drucilla Cornell -; (212) 260-9730.

Seth Kahn -; (610) 436-2915.

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